Ukraine reports first combat death since new truce

Kiev: Ukraine on Thursday reported its first combat death since Kiev agreed a new “indefinite” ceasefire deal with pro-Russian insurgents in the separatist east last week.
The military said the soldier was killed in fighting on Wednesday in the village of Kurti Blaka — some 15 kilometres (nine miles) north of the militias’ de facto capital of Donetsk.
The rebels did not report any casualties on their part.
The incident comes amid swelling hope that the 31-month conflict may be winding down after nearly 10,000 people have died.
The former Soviet republic accuses its neighbour Russia of launching the war in retaliation for the ouster of Ukraine’s Moscow-backed president in February 2014.
Russia denies any role in the conflict.
The reported death does not necessarily mean the collapse of the ceasefire because monitors from the Organisation of Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) have reported a “significant” decrease in fighting.
But it does mean sporadic violence is likely to continue and that shelling across the front line may go on even as the sides talk peace.
“There has been some de-escalation over the past days,” said Alexander Hug of the OSCE’s Special Monitoring Mission on Ukraine.
“The mission will not speculate whether this latest renewed commitment to the ceasefire will last,” Hug said.
The insurgents agreed to the truce last Friday — two days after it was negotiated by Ukraine and Russia with the help of mediators from the OSCE.
The truce came after days of unusually heavy clashes that killed 10 Ukrainian troops and an unknown number of insurgents.
The Ukrainian military accused the militias of opening fire on its position 51 times since Wednesday morning.
It said the heaviest fighting focused around Donetsk and Mariupol — a Kiev-held Black Sea city that lies between separatist territories and Russian-annexed Crimea.
Mariupol also has a port and chemicals and steel industry whose capture would give the insurgents potential access to large cash flows.
The rebels accused Kiev’s forces of opening mortar and grenade launcher fire on more than 500 occasions in the past day.
The number is impossible to verify and both sides regularly exaggerate the others’ frequency of attack. — AFP